Decades after his death, a few people gathered to honor the memory of one of Ghana’s renowned physicians, Pan-Africanists, traditionalists, herbalists, and sculptors – Dr Oku Ampofo. The venue was the auditorium of the Embassy of Ghana in Washington, DC. The theme of the gathering was mainly to screen a documentary, exhibit some of his works and celebrate the legacy of Dr Oku Ampofo.
I arrived early at the gathering with the hope of getting an opportunity to savor some of the wood sculptings of this great sculptor before the auditorium of the embassy got filled, well this early bird sure did catch a few good tasty worms because the event organizers were just beginning to delicately haul some of Dr Oku Ampofo’s work into the embassy at my arrival in preparation for the exhibition so yes, I did feast my eyes and imagination.
But I did not have a lot of alone-time because other folks as excited as myself begun trickling into the embassy on that calm winter weekend evening of March 3, 2018, some of which included Ghana’s Ambassador to the United States His Excellency Dr Barfour Adjei-Barwuah, contemporaries of the late sculptor and herbal medicine enthusiast, embassy staff, the Sankofa Children Museum of African Cultures, and the general public.
The intricacy and delicacy of many of the sculptings I saw left me in awe of Dr Oku Ampofo, I had seen pictures of and read about his works, but this was the first time I was beholding their magnificence and beauty. This man is something else I thought to myself, I felt a little ashamed I had just started to discover the history behind him.
So, Dr Oku Ampofo (born November 4, 1908, in the then Gold Coast), the world acclaimed sculptor was also an acclaimed herbalist and astute student of culture credited with founding Ghana’s Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine (CSRPM) in 1975. Oh… he was once upon a time an actor as well, but as the screening of the documentary in his memory begun and I watched Dr Oku Ampofo on the screen, I bore in mind the fact that he was not acting this time, this time he was sharing the realities of his life, he was chronicling his journey through the magic of video.
The short film tantalized viewers with intimate details of the life of the visionary, patriot, traditionalist and innovator who was born Kwaku Oku Ampofo. What I watched teased me enough to set me on a path to discover on my own the fact that Dr Oku Ampofo had his elementary education at the Basel Mission Church School in Amanase, went to Anum Secondary School, then to Mfantsipim boys school and eventually Achimota College; all respectively in Ghana.
From Achimota he won a scholarship that took him off the shores of Ghana to study medicine at Edinburg University, this happened when at 25yrs the native of Mampong-Akwapim became the first Ghanaian to receive a government scholarship to study medicine.
He later on received a scholarship from Ghana’s first President Dr Kwame Nkrumah to delve more into medicine in China, later on in his life and through his work as a herbalist, over 300 plants were identified and certified to have genuine therapeutic effects for the treatment of many diseases including malaria, sickle-cell anaemia, arthritis, diabetes and even some forms of cancer.
I left the embassy that night wondering what I could do to spread my newly acquired knowledge of Dr Oku Ampofo’s life and work, and well you guessed right – I decided to put it all together in writing with the hope that a reader might see and share, or even more importantly, research on their own to learn more because this piece does not do enough justice to the legacy of this great Pan-Africanist from Ghana.
It, however, saddened me to discover later on in my research for this write-up that Dr Oku Apmpofo’s CSRPM (now known as CPMR) in Mampong, Ghana, is beset with dilapidation and neglect, lacking the simplest equipment to function as a research center.
Am at the same time hopeful that with support from both Ghana’s Ministry of Health and benevolent bodies and individuals, the center could market the more than 30 herbal products for the treatment of various ailments that it presently does, to rake in more money. This could help uplift the image of the center, attract researchers and scientists as well as herbalists to revamp faith in the use of traditional medicine among millennials, given the fact that modern medicines are becoming more and more expensive by the minute.
Dr Oku Ampofo left us his love through publications – 15 works in 20 publications in three languages spread across 53 library holdings, yes and lots of sculptures and great memories. Speaking of sculptures, this was not the first time Dr Oku Ampofo’s work has been exhibited at the embassy of Ghana in DC… 14yrs ago in October 2004, his works were among an art exhibition that depicted the influence of ancient Ghanaian creativity on contemporary African-American art forms.
History does not repeat itself for no reason, Dr Oku Ampofo is reaching out again, can you hear him a bit clearer now? The dead continues to speak, let the living listen, I have done my bit… Rest in Power Dr Oku Ampofo!
Written by Oral Ofori